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Kit Guide

Topper Downhauls

By Dave Cockerill 2nd October 2020

Balancing the Rig

Downhauls are a big topic of conversation in the Topper class, and for a very good reason.
  • If Ian Proctor had designed the Topper to be a full on race boat he would have put the mast further forward!
  • Because it is too far back, the push on the sail is behind the pivot point of the daggerboard and the boat screws up into the wind.
  • This is great if you are learning to sail because the beginner can let everything go and the Topper will happily go head to wind and stop. It’s not so good if you’re racing in a breeze.
  • How many of you struggle in a breeze because the boat gets stuck in irons? How many of you find yourself pulling hard on the tiller just to sail upwind in a straight line? If only the mast was further forward and would push you away from the wind a bit!
  • In fact it gets worse when we put on lots of kicker (which is something we have to do in a Topper when it’s windy) because that makes the front of the sail less powerful. This is good to de-power the sail but it does give relatively more power to the back of the sail which pushes us even more into the wind. Oh no!!!!!!!
  • Fortunately you have a friend and smart sailors have realized this over the years. IT’S YOUR DOWNHAUL!
  • The downhaul also de-powers the sail (think of it as the bowstring and your mast as the bow itself) but it does it in a way that depowers the back of your sail and powers up the front.
  • The point of push on the sail goes further forward and the rig is better ‘balanced’ (the boat does not want to screw into the wind so much).
  • Early Toppers had a piece of rope and a hook. There was no adjustment.
  • When I first came to the class, with Adam as a sailor, some people used old V cleat kickers as makeshift downhauls which were often no more than 2:1.
  • Then the 3:1 clamcleat or 3:1 fiddleblock types started to come in. If you were very big and strong you could put enough on but the smaller sailors (who needed a good downhaul most) had no chance! Funnily enough I remember some resistance from the bigger sailors when I suggested a 6:1.
  • The class rules were changed and 6:1 became legal. 6:1 was chosen because you could change up from a 3:1 with little expense (by 'cascading' - see below).
  • In windy conditions, when sailing upwind (downhauls must be right off when sailing downwind) the front of the sail often needs pulling down to the boom – YES REALLY, even if you are quite big!
  • Before the sail is pulled down enough, the 'cascaded' system (see below) runs out of travel.
  • This is why Sailing Solutions systems have a spliced rope so the top blocks can be adjusted to be right up by the sail to allow the maximum travel.
  • Even then it is quite possible to run out of travel before the sail hits the boom.
  • Over the past few years you may well have noticed a lot of sailors using two sets of triple blocks, the bottom set with a camcleat to allow easy adjustment.
  • It is a better system because the top triple moves at the same speed as the sail and therefore does not run out of travel.
  • They are more expensive but they are the answer, especially for smaller, less strong and less experienced sailors. They have allowed the weight range of competitive Topper sailors to drop even further. A good thing in my view.
  • We have sourced and are now selling the new system at the best price we can.
I know that Topper coaches bang on about downhauls. It is my hope that a few more sailors will now understand what their coaches are saying and use downhauls properly:
  • Unwind in a breeze – pull them on until the boat sails in a straight line without using the rudder. Here’s an interesting trick – get you Topper sailing upwind in a breeze, set the controls as well as you can and then simply let the tiller extension go. I will be surprised if the boat doesn’t tack almost immediately. More downhaul will improve this, less downhaul makes it worse. Actually lifting the daggerboard so that it is level with the foredeck also helps balance the forces in the rig.
  • Downwind – let them right off (even to the extent of pushing the sail up the mast!).
  • The 'cascaded' 6:1 downhaul is OK if you adjust it for the prevailing wind strength and accept that they will not allow you to put quite enough on.

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